Bryan Washington: Lot

Get ready for a harsh world of drug dealers, broken families, one night stands, male prostitution, unemployment and everyday monotony in which everyone would do whatever it takes to get the hell out of their working class neighborhood in Houston. Opportunities for work are scarce and gentrification is not making it any easier. Codified conversations leave you in a void and people are saying a lot by saying very little. This is a story in which everything seems to be running in circles.

Bryan Washington: Lot. Atlantic Books, 2019, 223 pages.

I expected a lot of this book – I always do – but must confess that in the beginning of my reading I was slightly disappointed. Not for the fact that the novel introduces you to a fairly large gallery of people, but because I had the feeling that I was only going to get to know very little about each of them. In the end I realized that this was perhaps the point after all, in a world that unfolds in fragments and painfully stagnating lives in which the balance between love and hope and disappointment is most fragile. Perhaps the charm of Bryan Washington’s debut novel is exactly there! His pen did leave a mark on me and now I’m looking forward to more stories by him.

Summer reading

These are my latest new entries in my home library. Once again I have come to realize how beneficial it is to read books and keep a relative distance to the online world. I have selected these titles for reasons that I hope to illuminate in separate posts after having finished each book. Those reasons mirror almost subconsciously – or should I say naturally – these times of global awakenings and protests against systemic racism and also the fact that borders, margins, in-betweens, no-man’s-lands and urban space are something I have grown very accustomed to since very long.

Crossing borders

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A shop in the oasis village of Varess.

There is only so much in a small Mauritanian boutique. Looks like a very healthy way of creating order in life with just a few cardboard boxes.

This is a short travelogue to begin this brand new year. I just took a Trarza minibus from Nouakchott to Saint-Louis and spent those three hours listening to old women babble in Hassanya and at times in a very animated accent in Wolof. They all laughed a lot and their tiny mobile phones kept ringing and since the mobile coverage was bad, they shouted into their phones and the calls would just drop and after each call there was this sudden silence for about thirty seconds. And it all started again. Half way on our route we had a stop for breakfast with a rather predictable menu: grilled meat, baguette and mint tea. No coffee in sight.

I had a small artist’s crisis lately with a thorough feeling that nobody is interested in what I do, at least not in this town anyway. Everybody seems to be more interested in just telling what they do.

When you cross borders here between countries, you are asked about your profession and I would answer: “artist,” or “artist photographer.” The border control then checks what they can find in their system based on what you had told them previously, or they write it up for future record. I always feel like I have committed a small crime having changed my profession from “commerçant” – that’s what stands on my residence card –  to “artist.” Now, crossing the border I again found this question a little intimidating and while the officer scrutinized my data with a very confused look on his face I thought it would have been so much easier to say “fisherman” or “pirogue owner.” Although I probably don’t look like neither. What if I said that I’m an “art residency coordinator?” They would probably choke in their mint tea, or just kick me out.

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Crossing the Senegal river from Rosso-Senegal to Rosso-Mauritania.

Back in Saint-Louis, after the usual hundred or so handshakes, the desert still lingers in my mind and I predict that this year I will go quieter about my art practice and will concentrate more on the actual work. Perhaps I will show some of that work in the summer, somewhere.

Soundscapes from the Sahel I

I took my microphone for a walk yesterday. Making recordings is fun, and listening to them is just as much fun! Hit the play button, sit back or stand tall, make some moves or lye in bed and travel inside your head to wherever… this immediacy is what makes music and sound so cool. In this world of screens and scrolling suddenly it is what you are hearing that is scrolling you. Up and down! I also like the fact that when you make your own recordings, you can actually return to those spaces you visited and to me this experience is very spatial and three-dimensional and the visual memory comes not quite simultaneously but after that first spatial “feeling.” It reminds me of the game I invented when I was small: I would walk our dog in the neighborhood and register every little detail on the route and when back home, I would close my eyes and make that walk again and try to remember all those details. I developed the skill so much that I would re-remember walks that had lasted for over an hour, with street crossings, houses, trees, colors, smells, sand under my feet, strangers and familiar persons I had met and what we said to each other, cracks in the concrete of which I would check the advancement the next time I returned.. to the point that it almost became my second nature to this day.

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Click here to access Soundscapes from the Sahel I

This recording is made of one short walk from home to the sea (I needed the sound of the sea for an upcoming exhibition) and it is filled with human voices, cars, mopeds, sewing machines, sheep, horses, birds, singing, calls for prayer, radio voices, lazy steps, small money in calabashes, carpentry noises… the usual stuff in Saint-Louis and Guet Ndar. And then there is the ocean.

Everything in its raw state, recorded on May 9, 2019 for Get Ndaru Mool and Soundscapes From the Sahel. All rights reserved.

 

Hotel Paradise

Who slept in these round rooms? What shape were their dreams? Did they stay awake, listening to the repeating noise of ocean waves and too early calls for prayers? Or were they soothed by them so much so that they woke up late with heavy limbs?

How many breakfasts, lunches, dinners were made here? How many times did people ask for a bottle of Kirène? How many chickens ended up on porcelain plates, drowned in onion sauce and mustard? Who asked: “Medium or rare?”

Who washed the white napkins over and over again? Where are they now?

How many books were carried in luggage to these round rooms? How many of them were read?

How many children were conceived in these round rooms? Did any of them come here later after they had been born, and swallow pool water while their mothers would burn their skin in the hot afternoon sun?

Did the local teenagers come here in secret to eat snacks during the holy month of Ramadan?

Why was everything so round here?

Is Paradise round?

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The full series has 30 photographs. Hahnemühle archival pigment prints, 16:9 ratio (2019).